File locker Hotfile.com has found itself the next target of the Motion Picture Association of America’s war on file sharing. The MPAA announced Tuesday that it had filed a lawsuit against Hotfile on behalf of 20th Century Fox, Universal Studios, Columbia Pictures, and Warner Bros. accusing the site of direct infringement, facilitating copyright infringement “on a staggering scale,” and raking in the cash while doing it.
The MPAA argues that Hotfile not only encourages its users to upload illegal content, but actively discourages them from uploading files for personal use, because the site offers incentives for users to upload the most popular files (which invariably end up being copyrighted movies). And because the site charges membership fees before people can download the content uploaded by others, the MPAA says Hotfile “profits richly while paying nothing to the studios” for the bootleg files.
“In less than two years Hotfile has become one of the 100 most trafficked sites in the world. That is a direct result of the massive digital theft that Hotfile promotes,” MPAA general counsel Daniel Mandil said in a statement. “The theft taking place on Hotfile is unmistakable. Their files are indeed ‘hot’ as in ‘stolen.’ It’s wrong and it must stop.”
The charges in the MPAA’s complaint include direct infringement (as Hotfile is the one distributing the works), inducement of infringement, contributory infringement, and vicarious infringement (for making a profit on infringing files). The DMCA’s Safe Harbor provisions should protect site operators from being held liable for content uploaded by users, but the MPAA claims that the site continues to compensate its users for uploading popular files even after having received takedown notices. If Hotfile admins had direct knowledge of infringement, but failed to do anything about it like the MPAA says, then Safe Harbor isn’t going to provide any protection.
The other catch is that Hotfile doesn’t provide any sort of index or listing of the files that have been uploaded by members. Instead, the site relies entirely on third-party sites to link to the files, and the MPAA argues in its complaint that “almost all of these link sites are blatant pirate sites.” In fact, the complaint alleges that Hotfile paid various sites to promote its links, knowing that most of the files being linked were illegal.
The lawsuit against Hotfile is hardly surprising; content creators are constantly fighting traditional torrent sites and other P2P offerings, and have increasingly gone after cyberlockers and cloud storage solutions for helping users trade copyrighted music, movies, and TV shows. The MPAA wants Hotfile to be shut down, of course, but would also like a cut of whatever juicy profits might be found.